Gordon Brown on TV: a political coup or a crying shame?

For a man unwilling to talk about his private life, the Prime Minister was remarkably candid in his interview with Piers Morgan. We asked interested parties to judge whether he would benefit at the ballot box
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Indy Politics

The Diplomat: I don't think this will affect how people vote

Sir Christopher Meyer: Gordon Brown's television encounter with Piers Morgan seemed to me to be a direct line of descent from the Diana, Princess of Wales, display of grief in public.

It was actually very specific to Brown's political persona – which is not seen to be warm and cuddly – and I think the emotions were entirely sincere, but the choice and timing of the programme were entirely dictated by the election.

Brown's answers were in some places pure political artifice, and in others quite sincere and normal – the two things were mixed. It was less toe-curling than might have been expected from the pre-publicity, but I smelt heavy coaching with one or two phrases. I thought the most disingenuous part came right at the beginning when Brown said:"I'm an open book." Well, he may be many things, but he's not an open book. I was stunned that he could get away with that.

When he got upset, it was genuine. He cannot talk about his late daughter without getting upset. But that is not really the point. The point is: why was he doing it in the first place? The election is imminent and his personal rapport is seen as his Achilles' heel. His handlers clearly felt this needed to be addressed.

There is a suggestion that this marks a move towards a more American system focused on a presidential figure, but that is, I think, too simplistic. I don't recall Clinton, Dukakis or either of the Bush presidents doing anything like this during my time in the US. Nor do I see any kind of rapprochement between the politics on each side of the Atlantic, apart from the use of focus groups and political consultants.

In many ways, the prime minister has more monarchical powers than presidents, so it is right we get to know them. The leaders' debates will be more pertinent to how the Americans do things.

There has been a great emphasis on personality in British politics for a very long time – I can remember the media being fixated with Ted Heath, asking if he was fit to lead the Conservative Party.

I don't think, in the end, that anyone will be swayed by the interview. I'd be astonished if it affected how a substantial number of people vote.



The author is the former British ambassador to the United States

The Mother: It was an honest and humorous encounter

Siobhan Freegard: The prime Minister came across really well, and I wish we'd seen a little bit more of that over the last few years. I wonder if for many people his frankness will be too little, too late. The encounter was opening, honest and humorous – and it did show a new side to him.

More worryingly for Brown, though, is that our straw poll among mothers this morning indicated that they did not watch it. And this is the problem that comes across again and again. Many mothers believe they are disengaged with politics and that politicians are "all the same". In reality, of course, they are engaged with it because they are on the receiving end of the policies.

When we polled mothers about their attitude to politics recently, only 11 per cent said they would be voting on a politician's personality and charisma.

In fact, there has been something of a sympathy vote for Brown among our mothers, at least, as they seem to love an underdog – particularly after he was attacked by The Sun for misspelling the name of a soldier killed in Afghanistan. The reaction was: "For goodness sake, the man is obviously trying to do the right thing." Many also like the fact that he isn't trying really hard on presentation – perhaps he is just getting on with the job.

Ultimately, the biggest issue will be the economy, though, not personality, especially for the likes of ordinary school gate mothers, bringing up two or three kids. An extra 20 per cent of mothers are apparently planning to vote because of the effect the recession has had on their lives. So rather than political leaders being asked about their breakfasts or relationship with their wives, mothers want to know about childcare policy and working conditions.

David Cameron isn't guaranteed more votes just because he has a nicer smile.



The author is the founder of the mothering network NetMums

The blogger: There was no probing... as an interview it stank

Iain Dale: Putting party political points aside, there was little doubt that Gordon Brown came over well during his interview with Piers Morgan. Much more human than we've seen him before – but then again, with the standard of questioning he got, it would have been hard to have come across badly.

He spoke movingly about the death of his daughter and his son's illness. It seemed genuine to me, with no hint of an onion being present. He managed to brush aside easily any question that he didn't want to answer (such as his sexual prowess at university). At the end I did wonder if I had really learned anything new about him.

It's interesting that in the first two advert breaks there weren't actually any adverts – only trailers for future ITV programmes. It seems astonishing that they did not sell adverts during a much-trailed interview with the Prime Minister. I monitored Twitter during the programme. Several female twitterers were clearly experiencing an hour-long multiple orgasm, while others on the left appeared a little more sceptical. Tory reaction was predictably mixed.

As an interview it stank. And I say this with some regret because I think Morgan can be a very talented interviewer. But there was no probing, no exploring, nothing. It was just an hour-long party political broadcast on behalf of the Gordon Brown Party. As I have written before, it clearly breaches various aspects of the Ofcom code and I suspect we haven't heard the last of it in regulatory terms.

If I were a Brown adviser, I'd have been patting myself on the back on Sunday night for a public relations job well done. But I wonder if they were doing the same after reading the reviews in the papers.

Will it make any difference to the polls come the general election? Time will tell. I'd like to say I doubt it. But I wonder...



The author is a prominent Conservative commentator and former chief of staff to David Davis MP

The critic: We have a better sense of what makes him tick

Paul Flynn MP: I have been critical of Gordon Brown's leadership in the past, but I thought the interview was necessary and a success. It is now unavoidable that personality has become important in politics, as people are greatly influenced by the image of the party leaders. Anyone writing an autobiography has to agonise over how far to go in revealing their private life. But once Brown had decided to go through with a big interview about his life like this one, he had to talk about all the shattering tragedies that have hit him, just as they have hit other people. I thought the death of his daughter was treated very sensitively.

There has been a growing sense that there is a gulf between the experiences of ordinary people and the lives of politicians, who are seen as completely different from the public. Interviews like this help to break that. And it was needed in Brown's case. He is not seen as a warm person. But here was a chance to see another side – it's right that people have a full account of him as a person. I think they will have a better sense of what makes him tick.

For members of the party, this interview has formed just part of an improved performance by Brown. In Prime Minister's Questions, he has been outperforming David Cameron. That may not have as big an impact on voters as this interview, but it has been very important for rebuilding the morale of MPs.

Brown's personal recovery has produced a new confidence. While Mr Cameron is good at the personal stuff, there have been self-inflicted problems for his party in recent weeks. That has made all parts of the Labour Party more optimistic about the future. We hope that voters will want a divorce from the Tory leader before they have even had the honeymoon.



The author is the Labour MP for Newport West and has been a vocal critic of Gordon Brown

The speechwriter: Brown must transfer that passion to political debate

Neil Sherlock: I'm not a fan of the Piers Morganisation of British Politics - it is just too American for me. So I hope we aren't in for a run of these very personal interviews, where nothing is off the table. The coming election should be about how leaders can navigate Britain out of an economic, political and environmental crisis. Of course personality counts but policy and leadership should count for more. Politics should not be on Celebrity TV.



However, the question for Labour advisors is did the interview work for Gordon Brown? Most people will not look at it through the prism of cynical political calculation they will merely ask - what did I think? I think - and suspect I'm part of the majority - that it did work.



The Prime Minister came across as human and humane. Those viewers and voters prepared to give him a chance will have seen a man far removed from "insider" books that talk of roughing up aides and fits of rage.



I'm told by people I trust that in private the Prime Minister has a real ability to relate with those who have gone through similiar personal tragedies to those he and Sarah have experienced. This interview underlined what for example, widows of servicemen know - he cares. For me, who never questioned that, the interview didn't unveil a new Brown. But Team Brown will be hoping that it can give help give Labour a hearing on policy from some who had given up on them. That's important in the delicately poised race to come.



Brown famously finds it much more difficult than Clegg and Cameron to connect with voters. It isn't just a generational point - he simply lacks their apparent ease with themselves. This will matter with three TV set-piece debates coming up. Indeed doing this very interview is a recognition from Team Brown that they need to find a more relaxed and confident style for their man. Would this interview have happened with this sort of questioning if Labour were five or more points in the lead? I doubt it.



In this interview he was relaxed - it would have helped that Piers Morgan, as well as close friend of the Browns, is no Paxman or Humphries. Whilst Brown told us little new, he showed genuine grief at the death of little Jennifer and genuine joy at marrying Sarah. The question is can Gordon Brown show similar passion and emotion when he has to debate the economy, Afghanistan and political reform with Nick Clegg and David Cameron? If he can then the hung parliament may become ever more likely.



The author is Paddy Ashdown's former speechwriter.



The Independent Voter's Panel

*Latif Berisha, 29, a hairdresser from West Sussex

"I found myself quite liking Brown, he came across as a family man who has gone through a lot. I watched the programme because it's important to know about your politicians, and now I know something about Brown's background and what drives him. I felt like he understands what needs to be done. So I would definitely consider voting for Labour based on his performance. I feel he is doing a good job in difficult circumstances."



*James Thomas, 27, a teacher at Wellington College, Berkshire

"It was the first time I'd ever regarded the man as a human being, capable of emotions, which was pleasant to see. It was very moving when he spoke about the death of his child, and looked over at his wife on the verge of tears.

"I'm not sure it will benefit him at the ballot box – the great British public might just be too cynical. It's a publicity stunt after all. Yes, the emotion might be genuine but the motives aren't. We can see the machinations of Mandelson and co behind it: the lines of questioning, the pre-preparedness. Plus I think Cameron would do it better. The public would warm more to him under the same kind of questioning.

"Brown did well to laugh off the questions regarding his sexual prowess, which was typically cheeky, but grating and over-familiar, from Piers Morgan. It was inappropriate.

"Do the public have an automatic right to know about the private lives of their Prime Minister? Where you proposed? When you fell in love? I don't think they do – these things don't have a bearing on how you perform in office."



*Michael Wager, 25, customer services consultant from Cheltenham

"Given that Brown has not fielded questions about his family and private life in the past, it is strange that he agreed to face them this time. I don't think his tears were contrived, but it came across like this was driven by his PR team. I'm thinking of voting Conservative, even if my reason is only to give Labour time to recover in opposition."

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